Nellie Laura Lord Dies; Had Sitka, Yakutat Roots

Category: Obituaries
Created on Tuesday, 22 September 2020 23:49
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Nellie Laura Lord


Nellie Laura Lord passed peacefully on Sept. 9, 2020, in Anchorage. As she did in life, she brought family together in laughter, sharing, and Tlingit singing and drumming during her final days.

She was imbued with a calm, sweet soul but most remarkable about her personality was her love of laughter and bringing smiles to those around her.

Nellie was born on the banks of the Situk River in Yakutat, Alaska, on July 28, 1932, to Emma Harry and Henry Shodda. She was Kwaashk’i Kwaan (Humpback Salmon Clan) of the Dis hit (Moon House), Raven moiety, Tlingit tribe. Immediately upon her birth, her Uncle John Harry snatched her up and ran her to the Situk River and placed her tiny feet in the water saying, “You are a child of the Situk River, it belongs to you and yours as long as the water flows.”

Nellie was lovingly bestowed with three Tlingit names to honor the strong women who came before: Daasdiyaa, Sdáantlaa, and Kaaijináa.

She graduated from Mt. Edgecumbe High School – she was one of the very first students, along with her sister Lena, to be brought there by the BIA, when she was 8 years old.

Nellie went on to college to earn her teaching certificate, studying at Sheldon Jackson College and then under the tutelage of Jeff Leer and Michael E. Krauss of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Alaska Native Language Center, learning to read and write the Tlingit language while making contributions to their knowledge of the language and to dictionary compilations, as well as to ethnographic studies with renowned cultural anthropologists.

Nellie then spent the next 45 years teaching the Tlingit language, culture, song and dance, bead working, and regalia making. She was profoundly honored in her first teaching positions to work professionally with the Sitka ANB Education Program (now known as the Sitka Native Education Program) and her colleagues there who became lifelong friends: Charlie Joseph Sr., Ethel Makinen, Isabella Brady, Vida Davis and Annie Johnson. She grew to love and cherish all the young people who danced with the Gajaa Heen Dancers of Sitka, with whom she worked for so many years.

Nellie also performed with the Naa Kahidi Theater group with Dave Hunsaker as playwright and producer under the auspices of the Sealaska Heritage Foundation (now known as the Sealaska Heritage Institute), traveling extensively including to Europe and England.

She taught for years for the Yakutat school district, retiring after a long career in public education. She is beloved by generations of Yakutat students who learned so much from her about their culture. She also worked for decades as a dance group leader with the Yakutat Mt. St. Elias Dancers and the Junior Mt. St. Elias Dancers. She was often credited publicly and in writings for contributing to the rejuvenation of the Tlingit culture in her own community after so much was lost during the socially and culturally destructive era of boarding schools in Alaska.

Nellie met and married Gilbert Lehman Lord Jr. from Fort Yukon  while she was at Mt. Edgecumbe and he was attending Sheldon Jackson. She is survived by her children (and their spouses): Vik Lord Irwin (Mike), Arleen Henry (Russell Bogren), Katie Converse (Bob Fraker), Monica Wolf, Tomi Phillip (Damen Gray), Dorothy Lord-Matthew, and Richard Lord (Rogelita); and 25 grandchildren and 33 great-grandchildren with another due in October.

Nellie was predeceased by her husband, and her firstborn son, Gilbert Lord III; her mother and father; her siblings, Charles Shodda, Robert Henry, Dick Henry, Roy Henry, Lena Farkas, Elsie Shodda, Eleanor Shodda, and Mary Shodda; and her half-siblings Dan Henry, Paul Henry, David Henry, and Emma Williams.

“Rest in Peace, Mama. Your life of grace, humility and good humor has been a lifelong beacon of inspiration,” her family wrote.

 A private, family-only service was held at Legacy Heritage Chapel on Sept. 16. Her full obituary can be found at the Legacy website. Condolences to the family can be mailed to 5784 Grand Teton Loop, Anchorage AK 99502.


Correction: The family of Nellie Lord wanted to properly acknowledge the contributions of Annie Johnson to the early programmatic history of the Gajaa Heen and the Sitka ANB Native Education Program.”